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Guest Column: Building a sustainable sporting culture: Vinit Karnik, ESP Properties

12-December-2016
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Guest Column: Building a sustainable sporting culture: Vinit Karnik, ESP Properties

Worldwide, sports is a multi-billion dollar industry propelled by enormous consumer demand. While sports doesn’t have an industry status yet in India, the business of sports has indeed grown extensively — from INR 43.7 billion in 2013 to INR 48 billion ($713 million) in 2015  (ESP-Sportzpower Report 2016) and has moved forward from a single sport nation to a multi-sport country. There is definitely high potential of growth given our growing incomes, exposures, single to multiple screen access, broadcasters flexing their muscles to showcase a variety of talent, packaging…a growing list!

Sports as an eco-system is fast evolving in India. As a platform if leveraged well, it can go beyond a vanilla media buy and can actually provide multiple and complex solutions to brands marketing and communication objectives. Linking sharpened brand objectives to investments made in sports could be a smart way to buy and sustain sports sponsorships. The question hence is how a Return on Investments (ROI) and Return on Objectives (ROO) driven matrix be designed and help play a pivotal role in simplifying complex sports sponsorships measurement process to build it from grass root levels.

Five key areas that can help India build a sustainable sporting culture….

1.     Sports at a grass root level needs an amp-up

The Olympics and Paralympics have forged new sporting champions in the country…no easy task given their stories, facilities provided and the lack of adequate support by states and governments. Their hardwork is not on the day of the show but the years of training, perseverance, grit, determination and familial support. As a country, we can produce such rising and shining talent but that needs a push, spread and amp from the lowest denomination and broad-bases. Grass root development will need to occupy significant mind space for the sporting authorities and right holders. It will ensure sustained talent pool that will drive the performance of marquee leagues bottom up.  This will lead up to sponsor leveraging sports as a platform to engage with consumers/fans. 

2) Cricket as a sport is a wonderful case-study. Replicating its learnings

From a one sports nation we have done significant progress in building a new economy around emerging sports. Today India has professional leagues in Football, Kabaddi, Badminton, Hockey, Tennis and more… India is clearly world beaters in cricket, kabaddi and badminton, fast catching up in other team and individual sports. Building a sustainable sporting culture on the back of performance and fan engagement is something we as a country need to focus on.  We have seen advertisers love for cricket, that’s on the back of team India’s performance, star power in terms of world class talent and well packaged live and on live action served to the fan through multiple touch points. We have some phenomenal learnings from cricket that can be partially replicated and leveraged to delight advertisers. There can be a Tendulkar for every sport!

3) Team sports and individual athletes’ world class performance helps build further momentum  

A series of world class performances by our athletes at the global arena last few months has created a new set of national icons for the country. However, a recent parliamentary report noted that most athletes are wary of pursuing their discipline professionally because of high risk, uncertainty and low rewards.

Also, while it's a great achievement and euphoria about terrific talents, the real story of sponsorship in India for athletes beyond top 5 may not be hunky dory in terms of sponsorships and endorsements support. It is high time brands come forward to develop, nurture and encourage athletes and the entire sports eco-system at large, as it is not about a singular Olympics or Paralympics, but training from childhood that is needed.

4) Greater emphasis on performance analytics and fan engagement

The modern sports experience isn’t confined to the stadium. Significant number of sports fans prefer to follow their teams digitally and frequently use their laptops or smartphones to look up sports-related content during a game. In this digital sports sphere, marketers are developing clever ways to engage with modern fans. Social media has given athletes a very public and direct line of communication with their fans and brands will be tapping this potential more fervently than before. Fan engagement at multiple touch-points (on-ground, on-air, digitally etc) combined with the power of harnessing insights from data driven mechanisms, can produce some fantastic ideas and ways for brands to leverage their objectives using engagement! E.g. of how football teams have created a sports tourism, fan park, fan merchandise, games etc in Europe!

5) Brands need to look at sports sponsorship from a fresh lens. Link close ended objectives to investments 

Advertisers should not be looking at sports from a media buying lens. Sports as a platform if leveraged well can go beyond a media buy and can actually provide multiple and complex solutions to brands marketing and communication objectives.

With brands looking bullish on sports - ad spends in India touching 497580 million/ $7656 million in 2015, sports sponsorship makes up 10.4% of the overall advertising pie as per the ESP Properties and Sportzpower report, there is an option today for brands to categorize their spends depending on the wallet and intent! There is a league for every pocket size! Linking close ended brand objectives to the investments in sports could be a smart way to buy and sustain sports sponsorships. Hence, ROI and ROO driven matrix can play a pivotal role in simplifying complex sports sponsorships measurement.

The impact of sports on the society/nation is multi-dimensional. Today it also emerges as an important component of socio-economic development, enhances social cohesion and of course improves health and productivity. The role of people, government and us as a nation hence becomes of vital importance to create, sustain and promote this culture. The measure is not to digital likes, shares and conversations but to take concrete action and plan. Therefore, the time is right to facilitate investment so corporates/brands investing in sports can up the support and others may consider this sector as an ideal avenue for investment. This perhaps could be the next big wave for the Indian economy!

(The author is Business Head, ESP Properties)

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